In 2019, the biggest worry that leaders had about work-from-home was productivity. Simpler times, simpler problems!

If there’s one myth that the pandemic has smashed to smithereens, it’s that people slack off while working from home. In the last 15 months of working remotely, employees have only been more productive, hardly ever less. McKinsey found that 80% of their survey respondents enjoyed working from home, 41% felt more productive than they had before, and 28% just as productive. Many leaders found this out too, much to their surprise.

Productivity is only one part of modern knowledge work.

The physical office space — and its structures, processes, systems, etc. — had been designed and redesigned over the years, carefully optimized for all of these things. How do we replicate that digitally?

At Tredence, we believe that tools and software packages can only enable remote work.

Making it a success relies on leaders to create an environment that actively nurtures creativity and collaboration, despite physical distances. We believe that this requires cultural transformation. In this blog post, we share some of the lessons we’ve learned in making this happen.

Make proactive communication a practice

While we don’t often notice, being in a physical location, there is a barrage of information. People get to ‘see’ things in an office. We use our peripheral vision to absorb the environment, picking up tacit knowledge along the way. What we used to write off as office gossip played a key role in making people feel they belonged to the group.

Remote work forces us to make do without all this information, rendering it difficult to collaborate, debate, and even influence people. While working from home, we must gradually move towards proactive communication — using words to compensate for the loss of other information.

At Tredence, we make a conscious effort to have conversations about things outside of work. We regularly make time to discuss how we’re doing, feeling free to tell stories or share anecdotes during scheduled meetings. Our internal forums are, of course, always abuzz.

Make open dialogue welcome

As the boundaries of work and home blurred, people are now bringing more of their emotional and psychological selves to the office. In the initial days of the pandemic, psychological safety around work, career, future was at an all-time low. Even though the situation has improved, people across the board might still be emotionally fragile.

At Tredence, we began by enabling an open environment for people to share their needs. We encourage a culture where mistakes are not frowned upon, honest (non-work) dialogues are given the required mind space, and voicing requests takes center stage. Our transparent decision-making process entrusts leaders (across designations) to spearhead interaction activities to boost morale and instill a sense of belonging. For those of us who need a little more help than that, we’ve built partnerships to offer counseling, wellness coaching, e-workshops, self-help resources, etc.

Make onboarding about people

While onboarding someone in person, HR teams spend a lot of time and energy paying personal attention to the new employee. They make them feel comfortable, show them around the office, introduce them to people, find them a buddy, and so on. By simply being in the office, the new employee gets a sense of belonging.

More importantly, the physical space serves as a great way to distinguish between the previous job and the next. While working remotely, the new employee remains in the same physical space, perhaps even carrying some of the baggage from the past. New branded goodies can only go so far as to solve this problem.

What’s needed are activities that imbibe a sense of belonging among new team members. At Tredence, every new person gets a buddy who can answer every question, help them with processes, show them around, etc. We also try to replicate the water cooler moments through casual chats with the new team member. Despite our best efforts, we understand that time might fly by without people making time for informal chats. To avoid that, the HR team does regular check-ins to make sure new people feel at home.

Make innovation the organizational driver

When in distress, ideas don’t come easy. Given COVID-19 disrupted people’s lives in unimaginable ways, innovation is often the last thing on people’s minds. Add to that the lack of avenues to collaborate and hash out problems, innovation has struggled. So, we learned early on that for remote work to function effectively, ‘innovation’ is the skill to encourage.

We brought together an innovation council to create unique solutions to sustain employee contribution and enthusiasm towards solving client problems. Our teams collaborate on ideas, vote for them, improve on them, etc., to solve emerging problems. The first outcome of the innovation council was our high-end skills enhancement programs. Since then, it has also inspired 18+ go-to-market solutions and accelerators!

Make boundaries acceptable

Being at an office had natural boundaries of both time and space. Work-from-home has practically erased that. ‘Working lunch’ no longer refers to a fancy meeting with a client but someone working through their lunchtime while eating passively on the side. People today inadvertently send emails and text messages at all odd hours. We also just call someone without thinking about how it disturbs their day.

To overcome these disruptions, leaders must build a culture where setting boundaries is not only accepted but also expected. For instance, at Tredence, we have silent hours post-lunch on Fridays. While we don’t want to enforce silent hours on our people, we want to encourage them to take it light and ease into the weekend.

Make collaboration the norm

While working from home, it’s natural for people to feel alone, if not lonely. It becomes an additional effort to reach out to colleagues and work together. This can be even more difficult in consulting environments where people are used to walking into the conference room and whiteboarding solutions.

We saw at Tredence that because we have always hired and encouraged intrapreneurs, they took responsibility to collaborate. They knew that they could make decisions, agree or disagree openly, ask for help, etc. Of course, this extended to remote work as well.

We set up tools and processes to cross-leverage learnings and operationalize this throughout our 1000+ strong organization. For instance, when a Python developer in Team A has a specific issue, they can tap into the vast (streamlined) SME network or approach their counterpart in Team B, who might have already developed a solution for a similar problem. This approach standardized the dissemination of knowledge.

Make learning contextual

Even when done in person, “trainings” were often tedious. Hours of presentations in closed rooms were less about the learning and more about delivery of the training itself. In the remote world, the effectiveness of such activity is practically nil.

At Tredence, we realized early on that learning goes hand-in-hand with innovation. So, we invested significantly in designing learning programs that are world-class and holistic.